Research:Beyond the Individual: Community-Engaged Design and Implementation of a Framework for Ethical Online Communities Research
Most people participate in multiple online communities, including activities like commenting on a friend’s blog, editing a Wikipedia page, or asking a question on Reddit. Researchers from both industry and academic institutions may seek to improve these online communities by gathering some of this data or engaging in experiments in these online spaces. However, there are currently no common sets of rules to govern this kind of work and the guidelines that do exist for researchers may be significantly different from the expectations of members of these communities. Evidence of this mismatch can be seen in high profile cases where researchers have violated a community’s standards, values, or expectations.
Several researcher-driven investigations have generated sets of rules and guidelines for online research. Two prominent ones include Communication Technology Research by The Menlo Report and Ethical Guidelines for Internet Research by AoIR. While these provide general guidelines, they were not shaped through engagement with online communities and they may fail to account for the specific practices and considerations of those communities. Many mature online communities have established their own standards of research pages and policies out of prior experiences with research (see Research:Committee), but not all communities have the capacity to invest time into developing these practices. The investigators of this project will work with members and organizers of four representative online communities (Wikipedia, CaringBridge, InTheRooms, and r/SuicideWatch) to create and disseminate an ethical framework to guide future research in online spaces. Notably, we aim to learn from the successful policies developed in specific communities and generalize those practices, where applicable, to the broader online and research community.
Benefits for the Wikimedia community edit
Because the Wikimedia editor and research communities have a much more mature relationship than many other online communities, the benefits of this project to the Wikipedia community will likely be much less than those received by other participating online communities. With that in mind, we believe continually reviewing these practices is important. The research practices and policies identified in other online communities will be shared and disseminated with Wikipedia members and Wikimedia employees during Workshop 3 and may be used to inform future research policies and practices on Wikipedia.
Our proposed methods would involve conducting a series of three 2-hour participatory design workshops with various members of the Wikipedia editor community. Each workshop will involve a pre-workshop recruiting/scheduling survey and a post-workshop exit survey. Pre-workshop surveys will give participants the opportunity to individually reflect on the topic questions before discussing them as a group; themes from these asynchronous contributions will be used to prepare synchronous workshop materials. Participants will be compensated for each workshop they participate in. The details of recruitment for each workshop are outlined below.
We are currently seeking participants interested in Workshop 1. Please see the recruitment page for participation instructions.
Workshop 1 edit
We aim to recruit 6-12 Wikipedia editors. We will follow best practice recommendations from our partners to recruit this small sample size of participants. The workshop's goals involve understanding Wikipedia's community values, as defined by its members, discussing ways research can benefit and harm the Wikipedia community, and discussing practices for engaging in research in the community. Results from Workshop 1 will seed Workshop 2.
Workshop 2 edit
We aim to recruit 2-6 Wikipedia editors from Workshop 1, 2-4 Wikimedia administrators, and 2 Wikipedia researchers. We'll again follow best practice recommendations and utilize snowball sampling techniques to recruit this small sample size of participants. The goals of this workshop mirror Workshop 1 with the added dynamic of including other stakeholder groups in the conversations. Versions of Workshop 1 & 2 will be concurrently conducted with 4 other distinct online communities and their results will be synthesized.
Workshop 3 edit
Finally, we aim to invite all prior participants from all participating online communities back for Workshop 3. The goals of this workshop include discussing alternative frameworks for ethically engaging in online community research and using framework elements to generate concrete strategies, actions, and tools stakeholders can use to amplify community-level benefits and avoid community-level harms.
- 09.2023: Create project page and finish Workshop protocol [done]
- 09.2023: Pilot workshop protocol [done]
- 11.2023: Recruit and schedule Phase 1 Workshop with 6-12 Wikipedia editors [done]
- 01.2024: Recruit and Schedule Phase 2 Workshop with Wikipedia editors, administrators, and researchers
- 08.2024: Synthesize results across all community Phase 1 & 2 Workshops and develop multiple alternative frameworks for guiding research engagement with online communities
- 09.2024: Recruit and schedule Phase 3 Workshop with any interested prior participants
- 11.2024: Analyze results, write paper, and document the results on this research page
- 12.2024: Work with research partners to schedule dissemination workshops and develop piloting resources
Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research edit
The methods and protocols proposed in the present study have been reviewed and approved by the University of Minnesota’s IRB on 8/29/2023 as human subjects research. Details of this approval are filed under STUDY00019610. Finally, the purpose of this document is to consult with and gain the community's consent before beginning research activity.
The results of this project will be disseminated in a variety of ways. First, findings will be explicitly communicated to participating Wikipedia community members and administrators as part of workshop 3. Second, at least one academic paper will be published at an HCI or HCI-related conference. Third, we will hold workshops at major research conferences to facilitate dissemination to an academic audience and determine the preliminary feasibility and acceptability of our research implications. Finally, we will develop and disseminate piloting resources for IRB members, online communities, and academic course instructors.
- Fiesler, Casey; Proferes, Nicholas (2018). "“Participant” Perceptions of Twitter Research Ethics". Social Media + Society 4 (1). doi:10.1177/2056305118763366. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
- Clark, Mitchell (2021). "University of Minnesota banned from contributing to Linux kernel". The Verge. Vox Media. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
- Hallinan, Blake; Brubaker, Jed R; Fiesler, Casey (2019). "Unexpected expectations: Public reaction to the Facebook emotional contagion study.". New Media & Society 22 (6). doi:10.1177/1461444819876944. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
- Mayer, Jonathan (2021). "Princeton-Radboud Study on Privacy Law Implementation". Princeton. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
- "The Menlo Report: Ethical Principles Guiding Information and Communication Technology Research" (PDF). Department of Homeland Security. 2012. Retrieved 2023-09-19.
- franzke, aline shakti; Bechmann, Anja; Zimmer, Michael; Ess, Charles (2020). "Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0" (PDF). Association of Internet Researchers. Retrieved 2023-09-19.